Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Teves 5763 - December 25, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Conversion Dayan: "We Try to Utilize All Possibilities to be Lenient . . ."
by Betzalel Kahn

National-religious figures associated with the special conversion botei din have begun a public relations campaign to justify their practices, claiming "the existing framework is Orthodox and its converts are accepted among all streams [of Judaism], including the chareidim." The Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, has denied these claims.

The settlement-movement newspaper BeSheva of last month published a long interview with Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who set up special conversion botei din under the auspices of the Tzomet Institute several years ago and today serves as a dayan in a special conversion court.

In the interview, Rabbi Rosen revealed worrisome details about the inner workings of the conversion botei din, such as the fact that they convert 18 people per day. "We try to utilize all possibilities to be lenient from a halachic standpoint," said Rabbi Rosen.

Later in the interview Rabbi Rosen said, "The existing framework is Orthodox and its results are accepted among all streams [of Judaism], including the chareidim. Even if they are not partners in this framework or its activity, they accept the conversions bedi'eved. In hilchos geirim, like many things in life, there is a difference between lechatchila and bedi'eved. This distinction is understood in halacha, particularly in hilchos geirim."

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen said he favors large-scale conversion due to the large number of goyim living in Israel, which could eventually affect "the image of the Jewish State," and because the non-Jewish immigrant population helped bring the Right to power. On the other hand, Rosen notes that encouraging conversion is not part of the Minister of Absorption's duties. "It is forbidden to encourage conversion. Proselytizing is unacceptable," says Rosen. "Today approximately 4,000 people convert annually, half of whom are Ethiopian immigrants, which from a practical standpoint and a motivational standpoint is another story entirely. The main public interest is not in them but in the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and today even in Argentinean immigrants and immigrants from other countries.

"Regarding the immigrants from the former Soviet Union there is a serious problem in terms of awareness. Today there are 2,000 converts among them annually and there could be many more, even five times as many. But at present there is no government body in Israel that promotes or even makes [these potential converts] aware that such options are available. Those graced by fate, the Marina or Griesha who came to convert, could have brought along another three or four people like them."

In truth, since the special conversion botei din were initially set up maranan verabonon have opposed them for bringing goyim into Kerem Yisroel. Without genuine acceptance of all of the mitzvos, a giyur is not valid even bedi'eved, yet these assembly-line botei din fail to investigate whether potential converts have any real intention of keeping mitzvos.

According to the Vaad, following enrollment at the beginning of the school year dozens of major schools-- particularly schools that specialize in providing children of immigrants an education in Torah and mitzvos and that operate in accordance with maranan verabonon--inquired into the official status of new students. Based on inquiries conducted this year, of the approximately fifty families that underwent "conversion" at the specialized conversion botei din not a single family managed to bring a letter of recommendation from a rov or a religious family attesting that they keep Torah and mitzvos.

The Vaad is currently checking documents that point to full cooperation between the Chief Rabbinate and dayanim at the conversion botei din, and the Joint Conversion Institutes, a Reform/Conservative institute banned by all leading rabbonim and by the Chief Rabbinate itself. The Chief Rabbinate claims these organizations make unauthorized use of its name in order to promote various conversion programs.

As the chief rabbis near the end of their terms in office, individuals associated with the Rabbinate expressed hopes last week that the new chief rabbis to be selected would ensure all authority over conversions is handed over to established, reputable botei din exclusively.

When the current chief rabbis assumed their posts ten years ago Rav Kreiswirth met with the Rishon Letzion, who explicitly promised to close all of the specialized conversion botei din. The Vaad says not only did the chief rabbis fail to keep their promise, but they even expanded the activities of these botei din.

Rabbinate Conversion Courts Director Rabbi Eli Ben- Dahan effectively confirmed these claims by Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur that the special conversion courts are extremely lax in their adherence to halochoh.

During a conference held last month at religious kibbutz Be'erot Yitzchak to discuss how the national- religious sector can help promote the conversion of new immigrants, in response to claims by the Director of the Joint Conversion Institutes that the special conversion courts are overly stringent, Rabbi Ben-Dahan said, "The dayanim at conversion courts seek every possible loophole to accept a [candidate for conversion], and there is no resistance on the part of the conversion courts, but on the part of the immigrants who have no desire to convert." Rabbi Ben- Dahan said the number of conversions performed by these rabbinical courts has increased ten-fold over the last decade.

However, during the course of the conference Rabbi Ben- Dahan denied Rabbi Rosen's assertions that the chareidi public accepts conversions performed by the special conversion courts. Rabbi Ben-Dahan also said the beis din system is capable of processing 10,000 conversions annually, but only 3,400 conversions were performed last year, blaming what he perceived as low numbers on chareidi opposition and a lack of interest among immigrants.

The Vaad spokesman said that despite the increase in the number of so-called converts over the last decade, without the Vaad's constant opposition in principle the figures could have been several times higher. He accused Rabbi Ben-Dahan for the lack of seriousness prevailing in the conversion system and its failure to maintain minimal halachic standards.

"While the Chief Rabbinate forbids any use of its name in association with the Joint Institutes," added the Vaad spokesman, "the administration of the rabbinate conversion courts openly and officially cooperates with them. The fact that Rabbi Ben-Dahan participated in a conference with the Joint Institutes administration is additional proof of the cooperation with them."

The spokesman also noted an article by Rabbi Ben-Dahan published in Hatsofe several months ago in which he wrote, "The budget allocations for the Joint Institutes, which include Reform and Conservative board members, are routed through the Chief Rabbinate's rabbinical courts administration and they work in cooperation with the special conversion courts on a number of matters." According to the Vaad spokesman it remains unclear how this accords with the Chief Rabbinical Council's decision of 13 Shevat 5758 that "gedolei Yisroel forbid any cooperation with them or their mode of approach."


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